Belarus frees jailed opposition leader
Belarussian opposition politician and 2010 presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau was released from prison on Saturday.
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
The release came after the European Union imposed new sanctions on the former Soviet republic.
The Orthodox Easter weekend brought long-awaited good news to Belarus. Andrei Sannikau, candidate for presidency at the December 2010 elections, was released from prison on Saturday evening, April 14.
Next day, Sunday morning, April 15, Dzmitry Bandarenka, a coordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus” and Andrei Sannikau’s proxy, was also released.
But, as former political prisoners note themselves, the fight for the release of those political prisoners who are still in Belarusian prisons is to continue.
WIFE UNDER HOUSE ARREST
Andrei SannikovAndrei Sannikau arrived to Minsk late at night – around 2 a.m. April 15. He was warmly met by his colleagues, friends and relatives, but not by his wife. Iryna Khalip is under house arrest and cannot leave home after 10 p.m.
In his interview to charter97.org on April 15, Andrei Sannikau shared his opinion on what helped him to go through all the difficulties and eventually be released:
- I never expected this level of solidarity, support, human warmth, such active participation in the fate of political prisoners. … I would like to emphasize that it is only due to the solidarity of the Belarusians, families of the political prisoners, our friends, in fact the entire country, that influential international institutions have introduced clear and straight politics regarding Belarus in the decisions.
During the skype-interview organized in the Belarusian House in Warsaw, Andrei Sannikau described his feeling about being released:
- I do not think it is freedom. My wife is still a hostage. I am restricted in my actions. There is no freedom in Belarus, so it's difficult to talk about freedom.
He continued saying that “the release of Dzmitry and me is the step that should not be the last. All political prisoners should be released. I am asking decision-makers to continue to raise this question. Long live Belarus!”
CONTINIUE THE FIGHT
Dzmitry Bandarenka, in his first comments at the bus station in Minsk where he arrived Sunday afternoon and where he was met by his collegues, relatives and friends, stressed that it is necessary to continue the fight to release other political prisoners as soon as possible.
He pointed out that he did not view himself as a free person in a free country:
According to the Human Rights Center “Viasna” list of political prisoners, there are still 13 people who remain in prison due to politically motivated sentences.
During their imprisonment both former political prisoners stated that they were subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Commenting on confinement conditions during the skype-interview, Andrei Sannikau noted:
- In September my normal imprisonment ended and torture began. It was a special order to put pressure on me.
Dzmitry Bandarenka described his experience in the following way:
- At the beginning, I faced more difficult conditions in the KGB jail. I had problems with my spine. The system hits where it hurts. In my case, it was my health. But I think I did not go through a small part of what Sannikov faced.
The complaints of Bandarenka and Sannikau on use of torture against them were submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.
Sannikau and Bandarenka were released in accordance with Lukashenka pardon decree. Earlier in April, at the meeting on foreign policy issues, President of Belarus declared that he would consider the question of pardoning politicians sentenced for December 19 events who asked for pardon.
And both – Sannikau and Bondarenka –signed petitions for clemency addressed to the President.
Demonstrations in Minsk after the December 2010 presidential election.
Andrei Sannikau and Dzmitry Bandarenka were detained in the aftermath of the presidential elections that took place on December 19, 2010. And since their detention on December 20 they remained in custody.
During March-July 2010 trials of individuals who were criminally charged in the aftermath of the events in Minsk following the elections on 19 December 2010, Sannikau was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment under p.1 of Article 293 of the Belarus Criminal Code (for organization of mass disorder that result in “arson, violence against persons, pogroms, destruction of property, and armed resistance to authorities”) and Bandarenka – to 2 years in prison under Article 342 of the Belarus Criminal Code (for “serious breach of public order”).
Ane Tusvik Bonde
Regional Manager, Caucasus and Eastern Europe
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Information and Communication Officer
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